02/07/2013 08:14 BST | Updated 31/08/2013 06:12 BST

Latency: How Low Can You Go?


Fraser Bell, managing director at BSO Network Solutions, explains the value of low latency for all and the need for speed

Whether it's a fixation on Formula One racing cars, jet planes capable of bursting through the speed barrier or Olympic athletes breaking world records, the human obsession with speed is one that we can all relate to.

The idea of speed is one that instinctively excites and enthrals us just as the concept of performing tasks quickly in our everyday working lives is typically heralded as a signifier of high performance and success. All of which begs the question: if speed is seen as such a virtue, then why are we so quick to dismiss the value that high-speed networks can add across industry as a whole, when the benefits are so abundantly clear?

Traditionally, of course, the perception of high-speed, low latency networks is one that has been inextricably linked with that of Wall Street traders and the financial services market. In these markets, those with the fastest technology are seen to be the most productive and highest performing. Indeed, it's estimated that brokers can lose as much as $4 billion for each millisecond that their electronic trading platform lags behind the competition. This fear lead, somewhat inevitably, to the well-documented idea of the 'Race to Zero'.

However, one of the consequences of this competition for lower and lower latencies in financial services markets, is that a common misconception has developed. Because Wall Street traders have managed to extract so much value from high-speed networks, many have assumed that their use is the sole domain of the financial services industry. The truth is, in fact, very different. Today, in all industries, and across all vertical sectors, the need for speed has never been greater. The biggest reason for this is the sheer volume of applications that have become commonplace in the workplace.

From video chat to collaborative, cloud-based tools, apps are used in almost every profession as a means of sending and receiving information quickly. Lawyers and doctors are both good examples of industries where urgent information is often required quickly and at short notice, meaning that they depend a specific type of network speed to allow their applications to perform this function.

By contrast, the perils of having slower, high latency networks are clear. In today's fast-moving industry, high latency could result in anything from slow load times for websites to something with far more serious consequences. Indeed, a recent study from Google found that an extra 500 milliseconds latency in search page generation dropped traffic to the search engine by as much as 20 per cent. Similarly, found that every 100 milliseconds of latency cost them one per cent in sales.

With this in mind, it's no surprise that in research recently conducted by BSO Network Solutions amongst European IT decision-makers, 88 per cent cited low latency as one of the key criteria for their network. It's important to note that the value of low latency networks to improved service levels is one that resonates across a number of different industries, and not just the financial services sector. For example, in the healthcare sector, it can enable faster assessments and diagnoses for patients and allow for greater collaboration between doctors and hospitals, resulting in a far greater level of care for patients.

Similarly, low latency networks can allow people in far-flung locations like Singapore and Dubai to collaborate as though they were in the same room. For example, a professional services company with offices in Hong Kong and Moscow is able to use the low network latency to stream data-intensive video chats and to work together on large datasets in real-time. Likewise, educational institutions will be able to capitalise on fast network speeds to leverage innovative technologies that provide new ways of teaching and learning. Tomorrow's children will benefit from the rich learning content, e-learning platforms and other dynamic content that depends on high-speed connectivity.

There's no doubt that in the coming years, we'll see a continued increase in innovation which will make technology even more dependent on applications to provide us with more rich content. What this means is that we'll see low latency networks becoming an increasingly critical component of the way in which we live our lives. The truth is that we haven't yet scratched the surface of the value that high-speed networks can provide, and in the coming years low latency networks will grow even further and enable a new breed of data-intensive applications.

By allowing more intensive and interactive manipulation of large datasets than has ever been possible before, low latency networks will continue to play a significant part in both our working and our personal lives. As a result, we should see high latency becoming a thing of the past, as it severely restricts the kinds of operations that can be performed, particularly in real-time.

There's no doubt that low latency networks aren't just for Wall Street anymore, and that today, in almost every walk of life, people are in a position to benefit from them. Whether it's personal or professional, for use with gaming, or for fast access to company systems, low latency networks will provide the foundation for our technologically-enabled future.

One thing is for sure; as our patience with slower network speeds diminishes, our insatiable need for speed will only increase.